Sedgwick County commissioners have narrowed the finalists for a new county manager to four people.
“The reason that there’s four is they are extraordinary,” said Commissioner Jim Howell. “It’s hard to eliminate someone who is extraordinary.”
There were 85 applicants for the position that Bill Buchanan retired from earlier this summer after 24 years on the job.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said the county has “strong applications” and “the opportunity to make a good choice.”
Local finalists include Tim Kaufman, director of the Division of Health and Human Services for Sedgwick County, and Tom Stolz, director of the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department.
The other two finalists are Michael Scholes, from Fort Belvoir, Va., and Ryan Waller, of Glenview, Ill.
Scholes, who didn’t return a call seeking comment, most recently served as chief of staff for the Kosovo Forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Waller is the current assistant county administrator of Lake County, Ill. He calls himself “somebody who’s got the public-sector know-how with the private-sector mentality. How do we make the tax dollar go further for the resident?”
From the interview process, which involved two days of panel and one-on-one interviews with commissioners, Waller said he gleaned that the county needs someone who is collaborative and engages with the community.
“That’s what I do,” he said. “There was a vision alignment there.”
Stolz, who in the past has called himself a “west Sedgwick farm boy,” spent more than three decades in the Wichita Police Department. He left his position as deputy chief in 2012 to take the newly created job with the building and construction department.
“I was born and raised in Sedgwick County, and I sincerely care about what happens here,” Stolz said. “It is an honor to be considered for the position of manager along with three other clearly qualified candidates.”
Kaufman has worked in various positions for the county over 15 years. He said the idea to lead a place that he knows so well appeals to him.
“I’m a very good technical and tactical manager,” Kaufman said. “I’ve got, I think, a clear understanding of the organization’s strengths and opportunities for improvement.”
Unruh said a decision about a new manager will be an inclusive one.
“We are going to plan to have some opportunities for some sectors of the community to chat with the candidates,” he said. “Hopefully they will give us some feedback.”
The finalists, according to a county news release, will be interviewed by external and internal panels on Aug. 17 or 18. Commissioners will meet one-on-one with each candidate again on Aug. 18 or Aug. 19.
Commissioners will then meet in executive session on Aug. 18 or Aug. 19 to determine the next step in the process.
Howell said that each of the candidates brings a different skill set, so it’s difficult to weigh their attributes.
“We’ve got to find out, what are the values we value the most?” he said.
For Howell, that includes a couple of things.
“We need to begin to rebuild the county image,” he said. “There’s been a lot of concern. Is the county doing good? Are we on the right path?”
He said the county has to do a better job communicating “the right messages” to employees and the community.
Howell also said the media has “blown some things out of proportion” concerning the relationship between the county and the city but that the new manager still will have to work to “get on the same page” as City Manager Robert Layton.
“We need to have a manager have that vision as well,” Howell said.
Howell said that “any one of the four (finalists) would be awesome” county managers – or assistant county managers, because Ron Holt will be leaving that job. Howell said he asked each candidate whether he would be interested in the No. 2 spot.
“Every one of them said they would be,” he said. “It’s feasible we might see two of these people hired by the county.”